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Kids Need Dad When Mom is Depressed

Dad and ChildWhen mothers develop depression, children become at high risk to develop behavioral problems. A new study confirms that fathers can play a key role in minimizing potential disorders among the children.

Saint Louis University researcher, Jen Jen Chang, Ph.D., assessed children with depressed moms as they moved through childhood into adolescence. She discovered the children were less likely to develop problem behaviors if their fathers were actively engaged in family life.

The finding is salient because it is well documented that children living in homes with depressed mothers are at increased risk of developing problems such as aggression, hyperactivity, depression and anxiety.

Now, researchers can confidently relay that an involved father – one who has a positive relationship with his children – may reduce the risk of those behaviors.

The 10-year, population-based study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, is the first to examine a father’s role in a household with a depressed mother.

“My study corroborates findings from previous research that a child is at increased risk of problem behaviors when the mother is depressed,” said Chang, assistant professor of community health in epidemiology at the Saint Louis University School of Public Health and principal investigator.

“But once we factored in a father’s positive involvement, I observed that the adverse impact of the mother’s depression was attenuated. The father served as a buffer. He may have engaged with the children when the mother wasn’t available due to her illness.”

The level of a father’s involvement was based on questions given to children age 10 and older. Investigators asked the children how often their father talked over important decisions with them; whether he listened to their side of an argument; whether he knew where they were when not at home; whether their father missed events or activities that were important to them; and how close they felt to their father.

Chang’s study is unprecedented not only because it examined a father’s role in a household with a depressed mother but because it followed the children with multiple assessments throughout childhood and adolescence in a continuous context.

Her results drew on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), an ongoing government-funded study of ethnically and economically diverse men and women and their labor market experiences.

The NLSY contains detailed information about the biological children of these men and women, including each child’s behavioral and social functioning. Chang’s sample included 6,552 mother/child pairs. Child behavior problems were assessed every two years.
Chang said results of her study have important implications for intervention.

“I would advocate for health professionals to educate parents, specifically fathers, to be more involved with their children when their wives are diagnosed with depression. Mothers play an important role in a child’s life. When she’s mentally ill, the child is going to have difficulty, the whole family suffers. Fathers are in a position to negate that but may need a health professional’s guidance.”

Chang said her study was inspired by her family experience. Her sister suffered from mental illness and Chang witnessed how difficult the illness was on her sister, her family and her sister’s family.

“My research has become a personal quest and I hope it will bring more focus to the issue of maternal depression,” she said.

“Health care professionals must do a better job of screening for this debilitating and under-diagnosed illness.”

Chang next plans to study the effect of a mother’s depression on a child’s risk of substance abuse and whether a father’s positive involvement in a child’s life may reduce this risk.

Source: Saint Louis University

Kids Need Dad When Mom is Depressed

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Kids Need Dad When Mom is Depressed. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 24, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2007/08/15/kids-need-dad-when-mom-is-depressed/1134.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.